Saturday, July 09, 2011

A small quantum of solace

I finished reading A Quantum Of Solace today, Penguin's compendium of Fleming's short stories about James Bond. It was a curiously unsatisfying experience. I'm not sure if that's because Fleming's Colonel Blimpish tendencies shine through too strongly, when he talks about how awful food is in the rest of the world or how uncivilised the natives are, or that each story seems to be a rehash of somebody else's work (The Hildebrand Rarity seems to be a pale facsimile of Murder on the Orient Express, for example), or his simplistic belief that you can and should judge people by their appearances.

For example, the Russian double agent in Property of a Lady is coarse-haired and ugly, suffering from acne, and that's a clear reason why Bond should ensure she's destroyed, whereas the sniper in The Living Daylights is tall with blonde hair and a clear complexion, so she doesn't deserve to die. I wonder if he'd had time to write some more that there'd been a bloke with a boil on the end of his nose who sought to bring down the Royal Family, or a woman who deserved to be beaten with a stick because she spoke with a funny accent.

There are some positives to extract from this. Fleming is pretty good at describing tropical fish, and I now understand what Bretton Woods is, which brings us back to Goldfinger, because Bretton Woods was the accord that fixed the price of gold, and that slightly strange thing to our eyes now was something designed last century to keep stability in financial markets.

Except for Macau, which is really just down the road from where I write this. Everything is connected.

Even the prejudices that Bond has are occasionally upturned, both in Bond in New York and, more importantly, in Quantum of Solace, where it turns out that the very boring woman Bond meets has a startlingly chequered history and a cruel ex-husband, but the trouble is the story feels much more like a morality tale about the perfidy of women and how you should never trust air hostesses. So again, with Fleming's grumpiness flowing through it, it's not something that has aged so well. Unless perhaps you want to rage about 'political correctness' ruining everything, like, say, your right to slap some sense into women that you find annoying.

What Fleming did give us was a set of pretty good titles, even if the stories don't match up. Like some Half Man Half Biscuit b-sides, where the name of the song was sometimes better than what was delivered. And at least Octopussy is mainly about an octopus, rather than some idjits prancing around in a circus with a nuclear bomb. Strange how the films changed things, isn't it?

It's a week since I watched Diamonds Are Forever and I'm struggling to write about it, just because the film was such a grind. Hopefully I'll polish it off tomorrow - one quantum of solace that can be extracted from that is that it's the last time we'll see Sean Connery sleepwalking through a franchise he's given up on. Unless I go mad and watch Never Say Never Again again.


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